Yes, This Really Happened.

I’m organizing a trip for a group of friends and asked each of them to pitch in $100 towards the deposit. Brian gave his money to Amy and asked her to pass it on to me. I thought this was strange. I asked Brian why he didn’t just give the money to me directly. He responded by saying, “I don’t like the fact that you’re a vegetarian and I didn’t want you to try and convince me to become one.”

Okay, this is not a true story (and I’m not a vegetarian – not that there’s anything wrong with that, to reference an old Seinfeld episode!). But it’s reflective of a recent story I heard about a funder on the East coast: they were worried that one of their grantees was promoting a partisan project. But the funder liked the other work that the grantee was doing. When it came time to renew the grant, the funder gave the money to one of the grantee’s partners and asked them to pass it on to the grantee.

Now that is a true story – and I would not have believed it had I not heard it from the grantee directly.

The funder never talked to the grantee about their concerns. The funder, as far as we can tell, didn’t do any due diligence to determine if the program about which they were concerned was partisan. The only reason the grantee even found out about it is because their partner reached out and said, “Why is this foundation giving us money to give to you?”

In full disclosure, I have not talked to the funder, so I don’t know their side of the story. However, I remain baffled as to why they wouldn’t pick up the phone and, you know, actually talk to the grantee about their concerns. I recognize that uncomfortable conversations are not something that most people look forward to, but…come on!

I’ve blogged a fair amount about the relationship between funders and grantees. The power dynamics make it challenging on so many levels. And when funders aren’t honest or brave enough to have a hard conversation, it does a disservice to everyone involved – and ultimately, to the social change that the nonprofit is trying to make. So, funders, please: buck up and be honest! We’ll all be better off for it.

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